Tweet from actor, activist John Cusack Credit: Twitter/@JohnCusack

What’s the deal with Mitch McConnell’s seemingly bruised hands and lips? The fact-checking website, Snopes, confirms the authenticity of this Associated Press-distributed photograph of the 78-year-old Senate Majority Leader’s hands, which was taken on Tuesday after a Senate Republican Conference lunch. In the photograph, both of the Kentucky senator’s hands are bandaged, mottled, purplish, and seemingly swollen. McConnell refuses to provide an explanation, having declined to discuss it in front of reporters. His office has not issued a statement about the disconcerting pictures.

It’s not just McConnell’s hands that seem worrisome. Close examination of his face reveals discoloration around his mouth.

Questioned by reporters on Thursday, the Louisville Courier-Journal reports that McConnell was evasive.

Politico reporter John Bresnahan asked if he had some kind of health issue. McConnell countered by saying he has been worried about Bresnahan’s health and asking how he was feeling.

Bresnahan said he was feeling OK. “Good for you,” McConnell replied.

“But I’m serious, is there anything going on we should know about?” Bresnahan followed up.

“Of course not,” McConnell said.

Another journalist asked about the bruising, too, and McConnell said there were no concerns. He did not respond when asked if he was being treated by a doctor.

Aside from being the most powerful member of the U.S. Senate, McConnell is up for reelection in 11 days. As he seeks a sixth six-year term against challenger Amy McGrath, Democrats see an opening. Marisa McNee, a Kentucky Democratic Party spokesperson, told Buzzfeed News, “It’s understandable that Sen. McConnell might not want to discuss questions about his health so close to an election. But as Senate Majority Leader, he is a public figure which requires more disclosure and transparency than just the average private person.”

In the absence of an explanation, online speculation has been rampant. Print articles have explored the possibilities, too. Bruce Y. Lee of Forbes collated some of the theories, which include bruising from an injury or intravenous line, lack of blood oxygenation, poor blood circulation, blood thinning and anti-clotting medications, and lymphatic disorders. Many of those are consistent with a COVID-19 infection. But it could be none of those. We don’t know.

October polling of the McConnell-McGrath race shows the Majority Leader comfortably ahead of the former Marine pilot by nine or ten points. FiveThirtyEight gives McConnell a 96 percent chance of being reelected. But he can’t be complacent. Newsweek reports that McGrath has raised $82.3 million to his $52 million and outspent him $62.4 million to $38.2 million.

Perhaps McConnell’s reticence will help him protect his solid lead. Yet, in failing to be transparent, he’s giving Kentuckians a reason to vote against him. Evasiveness and visible bruising are a bad combination for a politician. Even worse, McConnell has been cagey about COVID-19 testing, saying he had been tested but refusing to say when. Giving a 78-year-old Senator a six-year term is a modest gamble, as an actuarial table will show you. Kentucky voters deserve the facts before they vote.

Martin Longman

Martin Longman is the web editor for the Washington Monthly. See all his writing at